Frank Stringfellow Barr (born 1897)

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Stringfellow Barr, a prominent author and educator who, as president of St. John's College in Annapolis, Md., introduced a radically new curriculum composed entirely of the study of 100 great books of man's past, died Tuesday night of pneumonia at a nursing home in Alexandria, Va. He was 84 years old.

On assuming the presidency of the college in 1937, Professor Barr announced that its conventional curriculum would be scrapped in favor of a mandatory, uniform, four-year program modeled on courses taught at Columbia University and the University of Chicago.

''The hundred best books of European thought in all fields will provide the college's new means of instruction,'' Professor Barr said at the time.

He distinguished the program from its predecessors as follows: ''At St. John's, the program is not one of many courses; it is the entire curriculum.''

''Moreover,'' he said, ''where the Columbia and Chicago book lists leaned overwhelmingly toward the humanities, the St. John's freshmen read their Euclid, their Nicomachus, their Archimedes along with their Homer.'' Program Evokes Criticism

Professor Barr acknowledged after the first year that some critics had found the program ''authoritarian and fascist, because the student is not allowed to choose what he will study and what he will ignore.''

On the other hand, he observed, ''For the first time in possibly 1,500 years, a group of college freshmen has just read Euclid's 'Elements' through.''

''Meanwhile,'' Professor Barr said, ''Catholic educators have denounced the list for including Marx and Freud along with St. Augustine and St. Thomas. Yet surely both St. Thomas and Freud are part of the intellectual tradition of the Occident.''

Others included in the list, which had grown to 109 books by the time Professor Barr left St. John's in 1946, were Chaucer, Copernicus, Dante, Darwin, Dickens, Goethe, Hume, Ibsen, James, Kant, Locke, Milton, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Virgil. The Old and New Testaments were also studied.

The regimen he and Dean Scott Buchanan established has been maintained to this day. Carl F. Hovde, dean of Columbia College from 1968 until 1972, a time when it was under pressure to revise its own relatively stringent curriculum, said last night of St. John's, ''It has always been exciting to have a place with so clear a sense of what it wishedto do and which never made compromises.'' ''St. John' s view,'' Dr. Hovde said, ''was to recover the traditionof the West i n a more thoroughgoing way than any other institution inAmerica tried to do.''

Professor Barr, who was known to his family, friends and colleagues as Winkie, was born in Suffolk, Va. He earned degrees at Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, the University of Virginia and the University of Paris.

Professor Barr taught at the University of Virginia from 1924 to 1937 and was also a visiting professor at the University of Chicago. Warns of Global Atom Warfare

Among those urging creation of a world union after World War II, Professor Barr cautioned in September 1945: ''To trust any league, alliance, association or treaty among sovereign nations to outlaw the production or use of atomic bombs is to trust swamps to cease producing mosquitoes.'' He was the president of the Foundation for World Government from 1948 until 1958.

Professor Barr also taught at the Newark College of Arts and Sciences of Rutgers University from 1955 to 1964. He was the author of 11 books, including histories of Europe and Greece, a cookbook, a children's book and a novel, ''Purely Academic,'' which was described by The Times's reviewer as an ''acid critique of college life.''

In his last public role, Professor Barr was a fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, Calif., from 1966 to 1969.

During the campus disorders of the late 1960's, Professor Barr praised college administrators who had dealt with students thoughtfully, instead of dismissing them as ''truculent petitioners.''

''Such administrators,'' he said at the center in May 1969, ''have by their behavior suggested how much more exciting a college or university can be than a fortress or a guerrilla camp.''

Upon leaving the center, Professor Barr and his wife, Gladys Baldwin Barr, whom he married in 1921, moved to Kingston, N.J. Mrs. Barr died in 1974. Professor Barr had been confined to a nursing home since May 1979.

The couple had no children. Professor Barr is survived by a nephew, William Alexander Barr of Gibson Island, Md., and a cousin, Sarah Patton Boyle of Arlington, Va.

St. John's College is planning a memorial service.

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Stringfellow Barr (January 15, 1897, in Suffolk, Virginia – February 3, 1982, in Alexandria, Virginia) was a historian, author, and former president of St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, where he, together with Scott Buchanan, instituted the Great Books curriculum.


Barr was the editor of Virginia Quarterly Review from 1931–1937.[1] He established and was president of the Foundation for World Government from 1948 to 1958. In the 1950s he taught classics at Rutgers University.

Barr wrote compact yet lucid historical surveys of three major periods of western history. Two of his books, The Will of Zeus and The Mask of Jove deal with the Greeks and Romans, respectively. He also wrote The Pilgrimage of Western Man, dealing with western history from the Renaissance through the early post-World War II era.[2]

His nickname was "Winkie" [1].

In a 1951 New York Post column, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. mocked Barr as belonging to the "solve-the-Russian-problem-by-giving-them-money school," and said, of him and two others, "None of these gentlemen is a Communist, but none of them objects very much to Communism. They are the Typhoid Marys of the left, bearing the germs of the infection even if not suffering obviously from the disease."[2]

Barr's views on the poor quality of American education and an American society driven by consumerist ideology are presented in ironic terms in Purely Academic (1958), a classic academic novel set in an anonymous Corn Belt university during the McCarthy period, as when a character in the story says that

Many observers here and abroad note a kind of higher illiteracy in our college graduates. But we like it that way. In our cars we like horsepower; in our studies we like slow-motion and low-gear. In education the intellectually second-rate does not shock us. To insist on the first-rate would be arrogant. Anyhow, if we are so second-rate, how come we are the richest nation in recorded history and the fattest people on earth? [3]

In 1959, Barr was one of a number of signatories to a petition asking the U. S. Congress to abolish the House Committee on Unamerican Activities. Other notable signatories included Eleanor Roosevelt and Reinhold Niebuhr.

Barr wrote The Kitchen Garden Book (New York: Viking Press, 1956) with Stella Standard. The Kitchen Garden is a manual on growing and cooking common vegetables.

New York Times reviewer Edmund Fuller called his 1958 novel, Purely Academic, "bitterly hilarious," "sadistically satirical," and "funny and appalling." [3]